Bills Aim for College Aid Access for Undocumented

When Camila Bortelleto-an undocumented immigrant who came to the United States from Brazil when she was 9 years old- graduated high school in 2006, obtaining financial aid help pay for college tuition wasn’t an option for her.

“Back then, there was no financial aid for [for undocumented students],” Bortelleto said during a phone interview. “Getting financial aid wasn’t even on my mind.”

And she admits she could have used it-the $8,000 per semester out-of-state tuition she had to pay in order to attend Western Connecticut State University was close to three times that of in-state expenses.

“I had to pay the out-of-state tuition, even though I lived in Connecticut for [almost] ten years,” Bortelleto said.

Loans were also out of the question because undocumented students do not qualify for those either. A merit scholarship from the University’s honors program covered about half of what she owed per semester.

“Most students don’t get merit scholarships, so it’s not a realistic path for people,” Bortelleto said.

Up at the legislature, lawmakers are trying to make one. A bill proposed by Senator Martin Looney aims to make recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) eligible to receive college financial aid.

Connecticut Students for a Dream, the advocacy group that Bortelleto founded after graduating college, supports the effort, but would like to see some adjustments to the language, according to spokesperson Carlos Espinoza.

“There are a lot of students who can’t qualify for DACA,” Espinoza said during a phone conversation. “Having a DACA-only language limits it.”

DACA eligibility is dependent on-along with other factors-whether or not an individual came to the U.S. before their 16th Birthday and have lived in the country since 2007.

Not only that, DACA might not always be there, Bortelleto said.

“It’s something that future administrations can take away, so it’s very discretionary,” she said. “It’s not stable.”

In the event that Congress voted to do away with DACA, no undocumented student would qualify for college financial aid, Espinoza said.

“We want to make it as inclusive as possible so a lot of students pursuing a higher education can get that aid,” he said.

Senator Looney did not return a request for comment. Bi-partisan support has sent his bill proposal from the Higher Education Committee to the Senate floor.

Bortelleto said that she would like to see its language changed to reflect-at the very least-current in-state tuition requirements.

That’s the other issue. By 2011, legislation allowed undocumented students who had attended high school in Connecticut for four years to qualify for it. If Connecticut Students for a Dream has its way, that requirement will be reduced to two years by way of a separate bill being discussed in Hartford.

“Four years is one of the strictest requirements in the country,” Espinoza said. “We’ve seen two years, three years-Connecticut’s the only one with four years.”

Documented immigrants only have to attend an in-state high school for one year to be eligible.

“We think it’s ironic that Connecticut has one of the lowest for documented,” Espinoza said. “It’s going from one extreme to the other.”

The two year proposal was a compromise-Connecticut Students for a Dream wanted to lower the requirement for undocumented immigrants to two years of in-state high school attendance.

“I think two years is [still] a step in the right direction,” Espinoza said.




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